Can you get a good camera with a functional phone (not vice versa)?
April 27, 2013 4:48 AM   Subscribe

I'd like a quality compact camera which can make calls and send and receive text messages, rather than a phone with a poor camera attached. Does anyone make that?

I have done some searching, and I have found lots of people with the same question, but no good solutions.

(Perhaps I am wrong in thinking that a mid range compact camera like a CoolPix is actually better than the camera on a high end phone like an iPhone?)
posted by richb to Technology (18 answers total)
You could get the Samsung Galaxy Camera and a data plan from AT&T, then make calls and send messages with Google Voice or Skype. Nikon also makes an Android-powered camera so I imagine you could do the same with that one.

Keep in mind that both are designed around being a camera, not a phone, so they won't exactly be the most comfortable or ergonomic things to make calls with. They probably don't even have earpieces in the right places now that I think about it. Also, they're going to be the size and shape of a camera, so not exactly as pocketable.
posted by Venadium at 5:59 AM on April 27, 2013

Take a look at a iPhone 4 or above.

I'm a photographer and a photo teacher. I love it. Sure, it's not as good as my expensive DSLR, nor is it as expensive, heavy or packed in my closet when I'm out and the photo is right there. The fact that I'm even comparing an iPhone to an expensive DSLR should speak volumes.
posted by Murray M at 5:59 AM on April 27, 2013

Don't get a CoolPix or any other small camera. They're larger than iPhones, give the same results as a iPhone [4 or above] and do a lot less.

Yes, yes, yes, technically I'm wrong. Technically the CoolPix [and other similar] is a better camera. Technically if you took two photos with both cameras side by side, same conditions than a image expert could show you how the better camera is better. But it would only be by a small bit, and most people couldn't tell the difference.

When you calculate all the other stuff that the iPhone does, like be able to text and email the image, edit the image, plus all the other apps, it's absolutely a no contest. The slightly better image quality is invisible to most people and the convenience is clearly outstanding.

Anybody who says differently is defending their poor choice to buy a small camera that does nothing else.
posted by Murray M at 6:07 AM on April 27, 2013

Smart phones are killing the small camera [and the watch for that matter].
posted by Murray M at 6:11 AM on April 27, 2013

I'd suggest giving a used iPhone 4S a try. The only thing I miss is optical zoom. Tiny P&S give you so little creative control that the not having any isn't much of a loss. Plus the phone will give you basic picture editing facilities which the camera won't.
posted by chairface at 6:55 AM on April 27, 2013

If you can wait a while, Nokia's coming out with a Lumia EOS later this year which is supposed to have a 41 (!!!) megapixel camera. Personally, I would still get the iPhone, but if you're really only looking for a camera with phone/texting abilities, you might want to wait and check that out.
posted by ferdinandcc at 7:45 AM on April 27, 2013

I have found lots of people with the same question, but no good solutions.

It is indeed a common question, but my experience is that most people have no trouble finding a solution that works well for them. Maybe you can clarify why the solutions you've found aren't good for you. When you say "quality compact camera," what are you looking for? I know professional photographers who use iPhones for paid commercial work. It certainly has shortcomings, like any camera: There are some compacts with sensors that I wouldn't use for shooting in a restaurant, and there are other compacts with lenses that I wouldn't use for shooting sports.

It might be helpful to know more specifically what you want from the camera half of your device. Having said that, you're right about a limited number of companies combining cameras with telephones, and the iPhone does usually come out at the top of the heap.
posted by cribcage at 8:01 AM on April 27, 2013

One thing I really miss when I just carry my phone is an optical zoom. They make lenses that you can stick onto the phone's camera lens to give it a bit more versatility. I haven't tried this since I always have a case on my phone, but it may be worth looking into.

There are also apps that will give you a few more options on your smartphone camera, like a slower shutter speed.
posted by payoto at 9:04 AM on April 27, 2013

The Nokia 808 Pureview is an excellent camera with an only moderately-smart phone attached.
posted by 1adam12 at 9:33 AM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I use an iPhone 5 and a Canon 5D Mk II. Some of those phone pictures are good enough that I forget I shot them on a phone.
posted by w0mbat at 9:47 AM on April 27, 2013

The Nokia 808 Pureview is good also the nokia lumia 920 has an awesome camera also. The lumia 920 has optical image stabilization. If you can wait nokia is having its next phone announcements in may. rumours state their next pureview phone might be announced.
posted by majortom1981 at 9:56 AM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

As far as I have read, Nokia have the best cameras. The 808 as mentioned above has some very fancy tech going on. It's a ridiculous 41 megapixel camera, but does some software stuff to produce something like a 8MP image. The phone uses an older and probably defunct operating system, though, which might be important to you.

There is also the Nokia Lumia 920 which has optical image stabilisation. This uses Windows Phone 8 so is modern. It's not cheap, though.
posted by milkb0at at 9:58 AM on April 27, 2013

Or as majortom said ^^^.
posted by milkb0at at 9:58 AM on April 27, 2013

Do you know about You can set it to show you some (unlabeled) pictures taken by an iphone (4 or 5) along with pictures taken by a CoolPix (or other camera) and see which ones you choose as the "better" ones.
posted by needs more cowbell at 11:23 AM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't think you are going to find what you want, but what price do you consider mid-range?

The iPhone 4s and 5 (and other smartphones) have very nice cameras, for a phone. They are better than any camera you don't happen to be carrying, and they might be comparable to some compacts, or even DSLRs for some photos under some conditions, but in the end, they have small sensors and most have wide angle lenses. They don't have the flexibility, dynamic range or low-light performance of a large-sensor compact, like a canon s100, much less a higher end compact or DSLR. Want to take a head shot of someone? The length and width of their nose are always going to look distorted with an iPhone (portraits are usually taken with a slight telephoto. Taking a shot in a dark restaurant? IPhones do a surprisingly good job, but it will still pale next to a $300 compact.

I've been quite happy with photos from my iPhone 4s, but shots with my canon s90 usually look better. I've been quite happy with photos from my s90, but i was amazed at how much better many shots looked when I dusted off my 8 year old Canon RebelXT DSLR. Of course, the photographers skill counts much more than the equipment, but it is just nonsense to suggest that an iPhone camera is a reasonable substitute for anything but a low end compact camera AS A CAMERA. As for the communication capabilities, you can add a wifi sd card to any camera for easy transfer of photos to your smartphone.

But back to the original question: the closest thing you are going to get to what you are asking for is probably some sort of Nokia phone, but I don't know that it will be good enough as a camera to meet your unspecified needs. I also have my doubts about it meeting your unspecified budget.
posted by Good Brain at 2:45 PM on April 27, 2013

Just to clarify: I use a phone based on the same OS as the 808 Pureview every day. The biggest gripe I have is that there are fewer and fewer custom apps available for it, but as a phone, organizer, and web-browsing device it's totally fine.
posted by 1adam12 at 9:06 PM on April 27, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks all, very interesting answers so far.

I tried camerashowdown, and I did prefer CoolPix pics to iPhone ones, but not by much.

On Amazon at the moment, CoolPix compacts start from £50 (L27) and go up to about £150. I may be wrong, but I would expect even the £50 cameras to give pictures which are better than or comparable to than an iPhone in many common situations, given that they have a decent sized lens with optical zoom.

An iPhone 4S is £410 on Amazon at the moment.

(Perhaps it's a placebo, but doesn't the decent sized aperture and optical zoom on a conventional compact camera v.s. the pinhole camera on a smartphone make the former better in most photos? A lot of the sample iPhone photos on camerashowdown are close ups of objects or menus. Any portrait photo, or a low-light scene or any scene which would benefit from some slight depth-of-field blur in the background to bring the foreground to life will come out much better on a cheap L27 than on an expensive iPhone 4S, won't they?)

I don't really need a smart phone, but I do need a phone. I do carry a phone all the time (with a terrible camera - Nokia 6500), and I would like to be able to carry a decent camera all the time.

I would love to own something which took "decent" quality photos, like a simple CoolPix, but which can replace my cheap feature-phone. Ideally for something like £100-200.

(One niggle, and perhaps this is the reason there is nothing like this on the market -- perhaps the mechanical zoom lenses on compacts with their simple spring-loaded lens covers wouldn't survive in a pocket, whereas the pinhole camera covered with gorilla glass on a smart-phone does.)
posted by richb at 12:52 AM on April 29, 2013

Response by poster: Here's a new ask-mefi question supporting my hypothesis that an iPhone camera is not as good as a good compact: "The best camera is the one you have with you... unless it's an iPhone"
posted by richb at 3:40 AM on June 26, 2013

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